This assembly uses the popularity of advent calendars to consider what our values should be as we prepare for the season of goodwill
A Leader and a Reader (who should speak in the style of a TV commercial) plus a chocolate advent calendar.
Leader: How many of us have got one of these?
It’s an advent calendar – with a window to open every day in the run-up to Christmas. Does anyone know what is behind each window?
Has everyone been opening their windows regularly? Or has anyone cheated and eaten the lot?
The word ‘Advent’ means ‘The Coming’ and refers to the weeks before Christmas when Christians get ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
The advent calendar was invented in Germany, where people used to tick off the days that led up to Christmas. Then someone had the idea of publishing a special calendar – with a sticker to fix on for each day in December. The first printed calendar with windows – like this one – was made about a hundred years ago. When you opened each window, you would find a picture linked with the Christmas story or some words from the Bible (1).
The idea was a great success. Advent calendars spread to many parts of the world, and advertisers soon worked out that you could use them to get people to spend their money. Nowadays you can even get advent calendars for pets. Please listen to this advertisement:
Reader: ‘Good Boy Advent Calendar for Dogs. This is a fun countdown to Christmas for your dog, with a chocolate treat every day for your canine companion. Complete with Christmas card for you to cut out and give to your pet.’ (2)
Leader: Advent calendars are now so popular that they have their own chart listings, like pop music. So let’s ask our Reader to take us through the Top Ten – as presented by a newspaper (The Independent) (3).
We’ve left out the brand names, so there’s no advertising! At number one:
Reader: ‘You can’t go wrong with chocolate. The beautiful red and white packaging opens to reveal 24 milk chocolate angels, snowmen and Christmas trees behind each door.’
Leader: It’s no surprise that chocolate comes top of our Advent Calendar Chart. Let’s try number two.
Reader: ‘Wake up to organic melt-in-the-mouth chocolate calendar… a white and milk mix or very dark chocolate, both sinfully yummy. What better way to start your day?’
Leader: Will we ever get away from chocolate? Advent calendars seem to be full of the stuff. In the month of December, children will eat 19 million pounds worth of chocolate taken out of advent calendars. (4)
That’s a lot of chocolate… Let’s move on to number three.
Reader: ‘Fabric advent calendars… are an ecofriendly alternative to disposable paper and plastic. This green felt Christmas tree has colourful pockets to stuff with whatever gifts you wish.’
Leader: We’ve got away from chocolate at last! But wait a minute… What is Christmas supposed to be about? Who hasn’t had a look in so far?
(Answer: Joseph, Mary, and the birth of Christ)
Leader: I wonder if Joseph, Mary and Jesus will get into the Top Ten at all? Let’s try number four.
Reader: ‘Oozing elegance and class, (this) calendar opens to reveal a festive snowy scene with a beautiful pop-up Christmas tree and a snowman. Inside the doors are 24 chocolates of three varieties.’
Leader: Chocolate again. What about number five …
Reader: ‘Father Christmas fans should opt for this cute and cheery calendar made of felt and wood. It has little pockets just waiting to be filled with personalised presents.’
Reader: At least Santa Claus has made it! But will number six give us something different?
Leader: ‘Toy trains are always a hit with children and this one doubles up as an advent calendar. There are 24 little drawers, into which you can pop your own gifts or sweets.’
Reader: If you’ve got a little brother or sister the toy train could be the one for you. And number seven?
Leader: ‘ A 3D cardboard Christmas tree to make yourself, which comes with 25 colourful lollies you can stick on the tree and use to count down the days.’
Reader: Twenty five coloured lollies! But still no shepherds, no Three Wise Men, no child in the manger. Let’s hear about number eight.
Reader: ‘Fancy an advent calendar illustrated by a cartoonist? The famous children’s book illustrator’s distinctive doodlings make this advent calendar a great alternative to more traditional paper ones.’
Leader: We’ve had a look at those doodles but they don’t include the baby in the manger. Number nine, please.
Reader: ‘This bright green version folds out to made a stand-up, cut-out calendar decorated with mini-Santas, snowflakes and gold stars.’
Leader: Plenty of Santas this time, but still no shepherds and no Wise Men. There was no room at the inn for Joseph and Mary and it looks as if there won’t be any room in this Chart either! Unless… let’s hear it for number ten.
Reader: ‘A wooden item which is value for money. The box has a nativity carving on top and 24 red drawers spacious enough to hold any Christmas trinket.’
Leader: At last – a nativity scene! The birth of Christ – which is the real reason for Christmas, has scraped into our Advent Calendar Chart at number ten, while chocolate came first, second and third.
Lots of us like chocolate, but is it a really a good idea to spend an extra nineteen million pounds on the stuff? Is there too much ‘consumerism’ at Christmas – wasting money on things that we don’t really need? Let’s think about the way we spend our time and our money in the next few days.
Of course that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy ourselves and, if we look around, we can find plenty of advent calendars which tell the story of Christmas and raise money for good causes too.
We’ve got time for one more. It’s for a calendar that’s produced by the charity Oxfam, which presents the traditional Nativity scene, and points out that we can have even more fun if we aren’t greedy. (5)
Reader: ‘This Oxfam advent calendar is a reminder that Christmas is much more than chocolate and Santa Claus. All profits goes towards funding Oxfam’s work fighting poverty and suffering around the world. This calendar is a great way to remember and reflect on the journey to Bethlehem.’
Now let’s all remember and reflect for a moment. Advent calendars are about opening windows, and each closed window hides something that is meant to make us feel good. Listen now to some thoughts about ways in which we can open up ways into happiness. Make them your prayer if you wish. (Lines in the ‘Response’ section could perhaps be shared among members of the assembly. Local needs and concerns may be mentioned).
Leader: Open a window and let light into my loneliness. I really would like to get an invitation to dinner on Christmas day.
Reader: Open a door to better education so that I can make other people’s dreams come true.
Leader: Open a way for our village to get clean water, so that mum doesn’t have to walk all the way to the river.
Reader: Open a path that to leads to peace on earth – and help the leaders of the world to find it.
Reader: Help us to open windows into forgiveness and friendship.
Leader: Open our hearts and minds to the true meaning of Christmas.
Both: Help us to open windows.
This e-bulletin issue was first published in December 2009
About the author: John Coutts has worked as secondary school principal in Nigeria, taught RE in Scotland, and has been involved in teaching and teacher training at the University of Greenwich. He currently works as a freelance writer, poet and performer.